“It’s just colouring in, isn’t it? It’s a fine picture. But really, it’s just a coloured in drawing” said my friend the painter. We were sharing a bottle and discussing David Hockney’s painting of 1970, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and I yielded to his superior knowledge of paint and painting.
My concern, in any case, was not with how it was done, but by what was achieved: a painting that encapsulated a particular time and place. It was the iconography of the composition that interested me.
I finally got to see the new show at the Royal Academy on Sunday. We had gone to London to celebrate Carol’s 60th and say farewell to Sophie the Niece, who has thrown up a successful career in something very boring to pursue marine biology in Madagascar. Around the fixed point of the party, we managed to lunch at The Wolseley, see Cass and Nala her cat in West Norwood, run into an old friend in a pub in Marylebone High Street, and short-circuit the snaking queues outside the Royal Academy by marching to the front and flashing our Friends of the RA card.
One thing is for sure, these paintings are not colouring in (though the colours are spectacular, especially the Grand Canyon piece). Neither are they iconic.
The exhibition has attracted huge interest, not solely because of Hockney’s current status, but because he has embraced the technology of the iPad to make the work.
The title of the show is A Bigger Picture, a phrase which has been bandied about in our household recently in another connection. The big picture is scary, but break it down into its component issues, and one can deal with it. So there is an interesting analogy here with the way in which Hockney builds his landscapes from a series of iPad drawings. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and it finds its perfect context in the grand halls of the Royal Academy.
Equally relevant to our current situation is the tree tunnel work, in which Hockney paints the same scene through the seasons, and the wonderful paintings of the arrival of spring. To be honest, I find some of the reviews of these a tad over the top. Hockney has not discovered that the seasons change. Most of us were aware of this before we set foot in the RA. But he has re-discovered this process for himself after his seasonless sojourn in California, and reminded the rest of us of the importance of what we already know. True wit is nature to advantage pressed, what oft was thought but n’er so well expressed.
Because we take into the show our own baggage, and because each of us has our own way of seeing, we respond differently and individually. For me, these works gave me a new feeling of optimism and determination. I can see the bigger picture, and it doesn’t scare me.
Today’s listening: David Oistrakh, the Brahms violin concerto in D, opus 77. The first time I’ve listened to Brahms for ages. My mistake.